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The chief of an Alberta First Nation has been arrested on sexual assault charges following a three-month-long RCMP investigation into allegations dating as far back as 2004.

Chief Vern Janvier of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation was arrested on June 3 and is facing two counts each of sexual assault and breach of trust, in addition to one charge of extortion without a firearm. The RCMP released limited details of the arrest this week, and said in a statement that the force’s Wood Buffalo detachment began an investigation into Mr. Janvier after it received a sexual assault complaint on Feb. 25.

Mr. Janvier has been chief of the First Nation, which is located south of Fort McMurray, for 15 years. He was most recently re-elected in April with 53 per cent of the vote, according to results posted to the community’s website. He ran against five other candidates.

It is unclear whether an interim chief will be appointed. The First Nation did not return a request for comment.

All the charges relate to a single victim, according to RCMP spokesperson Troy Savinkoff. He said he could not provide specifics of the case because it is before the courts.

Generally, he said, people are charged with breach of trust when they abuse a position of authority. Extortion without a weapon can involve verbal threats and physical harm to coerce someone into doing something, he added.

Mr. Janvier, 54, allegedly committed sexual assault and breach of trust between Jan. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2008, and again between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, according to court documents. He is also accused of uttering threats toward a woman and her family “to obtain her refusal to report sexual assault.”

He is set to appear in Fort McMurray provincial court on Aug. 24.

The long-time chief has previously called on the provincial and federal governments for better environmental protections and for the reinforcement of Indigenous rights, including through changes to the Indian Act. In April, Mr. Janvier wrote an op-ed for the Edmonton Journal in which he argued that Alberta should better protect caribou and Indigenous culture.

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